Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Words to Live By

Hello. My name is Debbie and I am a lover of words.  I love The Word (Logos), and I love all the lowercase words (logos) that run around spilling all over the place in conversation and writing and blogging (isn’t that writing?  Hmmm . . . sometimes I wonder . . .) and journaling (ditto) and reading – oh ever so much reading.

A friend recently remarked that she brings a dictionary when she sits down to read my blog.  Hmmmm . . . I’ve festooned my intro with some of my “key” words of late.  They keep cropping up in my reading and conversations and quiet contemplations.  As my current favorites, they deserve to dance with all of you in these fresh, new days of 2011.  So without further ado . . . I present Chiaroscuro, Serendipity, and Epiphany!    

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“The interplay of light and shadow”

Origin:  Italian, from chiaro clear, light + oscuro obscure, dark

First Known Use: 1686

(from Mirriam –Webster Dictionary)

* * *


”The faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for”

Origin:  from its possession by the heroes of the Persian fairy tale The Three Princes of Serendip.

First Known Use: 1754


* * * 


“An illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.”

Middle English epiphanie, from Anglo-French, from Late Latin epiphania, from Late Greek, plural, probably alteration of Greek epiphaneia appearance, manifestation, from epiphainein to manifest, from epi- + phainein to show.

First Known Use: 14th century



The New Year dawned bright and sparkly around here with a fresh blanket of snow glazing everything in a wonderlandesque (made that one up according to my spell-checker . . . and I love it all the more for it) patina of surreal beauty.  What a serendipitous peek into 2011.  I stood at the window and marveled over the snowfall that the weatherman had not predicted, but had arrived anyway.  My New Year’s resolution of living in serendipity seemed so fitting, so magical, so perfectly illustrated . . . 

*sweet sigh* . . .

And then I went downstairs to find a storm-tossed kitchen. 

I gritted my teeth at the greasy, gunky, lacquered layer of dishes and glasses that I had so freely ignored during the previous eve’s celebrations, not wishing to miss a bit of the serendipitous fun

“Lord, this wasn’t exactly what I expected to find on this very first morning of Serendipity 2011.  What gives?”  (Yes, I had obviously forgotten the spectacular snow scene just moments before.)

I popped open the dishwasher in anticipation of a load of clean dishes that needed to be stowed properly before I could load the offensive ones in their place.  I stopped short as the door lowered – the hollow washer surprised me.  My dear husband had quietly unloaded the clean dishes while he tended the fire in the wee hours of the morn.  A smile broke out over my face.  *Serendipity*   [By definition the joy will be UNEXPECTED.] 

Only in the rumpled, tumbled, chaos of life will I find the serendipitous moments I have set out to find this year.  A tidy cottage filled with tidy people living tidily will not produce the knock-your-socks-off surprises that serendipity promises.  And I crave.

Oh dear . . . my knees began to quake, my hands to shake, and I had to sit down.  Was this quest for serendipity going to mirror the experiences I met with while praying for patience once upon a time? 

Long ago, newly married, idealistic, and a wee bit frustrated with my own lack of perfection, I set out to pray for patience.  In a VERY brief spate of time I received oodles of practice in waiting, with the pinnacle reached on one very cold and lonely autumn night wherein I had the opportunity to wait patiently by the phone to hear whether my husband had survived a fiery highway crash involving his car, his brother’s car in tow, and a semi truck.  I had gone to bed that night lonely as Gary had whisked off that day to rescue a brother whose car had broken down hundreds of miles away.  No cell phones meant an occasional call from a gas station saying, “Love you.  Miss you.  Be home as soon as possible.” 

Then the early morning hours were shattered by a call from my in-laws.  “There’s been an accident . . . fire . . . we don’t know . . . we’re off to the scene.” 

Stunned, I cradled the receiver and sat in the dark empty room . . . alone with God.  Patience.  I needed patience.  He delivered.  On that very long, dark, and oh so lonely night I patiently waited for a phone call – of news I could not dare to imagine.

Eventually the phone jangled and I grabbed it and held my breath – “Hi,” he said as calmly as if he had just called to ask if I needed anything from the store before he got home.  I wept!  He chuckled nervously and said, “I’m okay.”  And that was enough.

Patience.  I’d asked for it.  And I’ve never repeated that request.  Or have I?

As we compress Jesus’ first two years of life into a 12-day celebration showcasing stable re-enactments complete with gift-bearing wisemen, I tend to forget the timeline.  Focusing on the angel-catered moments of brilliance and joy and marvel leave me breathlessly happy each Christmas; but what about the dishes, laundry, fractious relations, glutted schedule, and all the rest?  Was there ever a day when Mary washed the soiled swaddling cloths and Joseph shoveled manure while relatives bickered in the background?  Was it a bother to move from stable to house between the miraculous birth moment and the epiphanous arrival of the Kings from afar?  And along those lines, did the Eastern seekers ever feel burdened, weary, foolish?  Matthew 2:10 remarks of their “exceeding great joy” at finding the star once again after departing Herod’s palace – serendipity, I presume.

In the real-life birth-to-wisemen experience Mary dealt with plenty of dust, dishes, and diapers.  The angels appeared in heavenly splendor and disrupted the sleepy shepherds on a hill covered in dung and sheep hair and prickly weeds and bleating beasts.   The wisemen journeyed long and far with all manner of discomfort caused by leaving their comfortable life and seeking something more . . . something calling from their depths . . . something promising . . .

Here at Wisteria Cottage we celebrated in grand style with feasts and festivities we have all come to love and expect at this most wondrous time of the year.  But . . . we also said goodbye to a beloved pet of 14+ years, endured comic-strip family drama, shed tears over the death of a dear man of God, prayed earnestly over a child suffering from frightening seizures, and . . . collapsed broken and confused into the sturdy arms of a Heavenly Father who lifted us and filled us with joy despite it all.  Pure, unexpected, unexplainable, make-me-laugh-out-loud gifts of sweet serendipity arrived when we least expected them (and needed them most).

I look back over the waning of 2010 and the dawning of 2011 and I see a chiaroscuro painting – light and dark, shadings and shadows filling the canvas with mystery and anticipation, drama and joy.  I have NO IDEA what 2011 holds, but I do know that it promises to be laced with serendipity, epiphany, and chiaroscuro because life is a mess.  I am a mess.  Underneath all the carefully chosen clothes and words burns a wanderlust of yearning not unlike that propelling the Three Kings to leave it all and seek.  I cannot explain it rationally.  I feel called, led, prodded into an unknown place – a place I’ve never been before.  A place I cannot keep from seeking. 

Thomas Merton’s words echo those ringing in my heart:

For it seems to me that the first responsibility of a man of faith is to make his faith really part of his own life, not by rationalizing it but by living it.

After all, these meditations are musings upon questions that are, to me, relatively or even absolutely important.  They do not always pretend to be final answers to final questions, nor do they even claim to face those questions in the most fundamental possible terms.  But at least I can hope they are thoughts that I have honestly thought out for myself, and that, for better or worse, mean something in my own life and in the lives of those I live with.

From No Man Is an Island (xiv)   

This holiday prelude to 2011 has taught me that serendipity lives in a hovel nestled in a dirty valley amongst grubby people and yet her smile brings . . . well . . . serendipity, of course! 

The wildflower abloom in a frozen meadow, the sweet breeze that blows in while one cleans the chicken coop, the treasured hug of a child in my arms weeping because they miss the child who has already flown to Heaven (six years and counting -- it never gets easier; it always hurts to be here while he is not . . . he is flown to better . . . so we weep still)  –  these be the portends of my 2011.  Thus I celebrate!

Happy Serendipitous New Year! 

May the Chiaroscuro of your life 
be filled with Epiphanies of great joy!


kylie said...

i remember once when the kids were younger, i was going out somewhere and they all ran up the street waving and shouting as i drove away. they stood on the corner jumping up and down in farewell and my joy in that moment brings tears to my eyes yet. funnily enough i might have forgotten all about it except that i told the story to the lady i was meeting and she suggested that i should enjoy those moments of serendipity. i wasnt familiar with the word at the time but i knew exactly what she was saying

Karen Deborah said...

I appreciate the vocabulary lesson. If you keep this up maybe I could pass the GRE sometime.

I am so glad I didn't miss this beautiful, thought provoking, and very personal post. Your best writing is like this straight from a transparent heart.

I love this story and you too.

farmlady said...

What a lovely New Year post. You should be writing a book some time in the future. You could do this you know.
I wish you a serendipitous New Year with an epiphany of thought about what direction you should take and a life that brings you "chiaro" out of "oscuro".
Wonderful words.....

FancyHorse said...

I love those words and your explanations! Especially serendipity. I wondered where it came from, but was too lazy to look it up. I go to your blog, and behold -- serendipity itself! Ha ha!

I edited my last post in my blog to include the promised grandbaby photos!

Kat said...

And so begins your year of serendipity! I love it. :)
Such a lovely post. Thank you. :)